Scitech | Zines: lo-tech publications in a hi-tech era

Midnight Kitchen opts for physical form of communication

Nowadays, if you have something to say – perhaps a dissenting opinion – you can put it on the internet. In the past few weeks, blogs have disseminated details of departmental strikes, Facebook groups have hosted arguments about red squares versus white squares, and protest memes have grown exponentially. But as accessible as the internet is, it’s not the only way to get word out: instead of using readily available social media platforms, Midnight Kitchen decided to publish a zine on tuition hike protests. It is a consciously low tech publication – essentially a bunch of images and text put together by hand with scissors and glue, and then photocopied.

What are zines anyway?

Zines are small circulation publications of original or appropriated texts and images; more broadly, they’re any self-published work of minority interest.  The word “zine” originated as a shortened version of “magazine” and was used widely in the 1970s – but zines were created long before mass media. They’ve been around since the printing press was invented, when dissidents and marginalized individuals and groups would publish their opinions in pamphlet form.  Zines allow people to freely express their ideas without the constraints of conventional media – much the way that blogs do now. McGill Women’s Studies student, Daily staff member, and zine enthusiast Hannah Besseau explains that “zines range from instruction manuals to perzines (personal zines) to fan zines, et cetera. They are DIY by nature, and distributed in a sort of gift economy.” There is little formal market for zines. They are typically exclusive to zine-making circles, are often traded amongst fellow enthusiasts, and usually not for profit. “By nature of being DIY and personal, zines represent a sub-culture [and alternative to] the capitalist economy,” said Hannah.

So, why zines?

Besseau believes zines carry immense value in “challenging mainstream discourses often found in sources like Cosmo or even the Economist. There are power structures embedded in [mass] media. Zines counteract that.” Zines give light to alternative streams of thought. However, that’s not to say zines can’t be popular. Widely-read feminist publications, such as Bitch Magazine and GRRL, began as zines. As they gained readership and popularity, they eventually became established as regular publications. However, gaining this popularity meant sacrificing certain freedoms of expression, as turning a profit calls for targeting wide readerships. Zines are often compared to blogs in their free-form nature, but differ in their physical and impermanent form. (Ironically, zines are less permanent than blogs, which are easily archived.) Besseau explains that “the benefit of [zines] being physical is that they allow a stronger real-life culture” – and arguably strengthen personal, tangible attachments amongst friends and social groups. The physical nature of zines, and their necessary personal methods of distribution, brings people closer in a way that the internet, although effective at disseminating information, does not necessarily do.

Check out local zine collections at McGill’s Union for Gender Empowerment, the QPIRG library, Concordia’s Greenhouse, or Cagibi café (Montreal’s unofficial zine library).


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